Bosom Buddies Episode Five

Episode One

 

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

Sabrina

“Great. Just abso-fucking-lutely great.”

With a scowl and a glare into my rearview mirror, I shifted my car into park and hit the button to kill the engine. I’d just barely managed to fit my sensible little compact car into this tiny space, and I wasn’t entirely sure that the giant gas-guzzler SUV behind me wouldn’t ding me on its way out.

I’d had to park nearly a block away from Celeste’s shop because all of the spaces in front of Between the Sheets were already filled. I’d have said that was good news for my friend’s business, but I had a feeling it was just a typical Saturday morning on the main street of Burton. The town tended to bustle on weekends.

And yeah, I was in a little bit of a pissy mood. I wasn’t exactly sure why. Today was the third day in a rare five-days-off break, and considering how much sleep I was getting—a hell of a lot more than normal—I should have been floating through life, sprinkling freaking fairy dust from my hands. But instead, I was growling, grunting, and grumping.

Did I realize deep down inside that this state of mind had something to do with one Wesley Crane and my last awkward encounter with him? Maybe. Was I going to admit that to myself or to anyone else? I was not.

That day last week, I’d given myself a stern lecture all the way from Savannah to my house. I had been prepared to see him again—or so I had told myself. When Linc had greeted me at the front door, I had been cool and relaxed, pretending that I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d oohed and ahhed over the changes and the finished walls and floors. I had laughed at Linc’s quips and had generally been a delight.

But the moment I’d caught sight of Wesley at the top of the steps—I’d been about halfway up at that point—the gig had been up. I’d nearly tumbled down backward, and I’d no longer had control of my breath, my heart—or my words.

That had been abundantly clear when I’d sniped at him. I’d been so flustered and embarrassed that I’d used a casual text from Coral as an excuse to run away.

I had two choices now, as I saw it: I could pull up my big-girl panties and start acting like a grown-ass woman, pretending that I’d never met Wesley before, treating him like a stranger. Which he basically was, come to think of it. I hadn’t seen him since we were teenagers, and that meant everything that had happened to him since was a mystery to me.

Or I could sell the house and never have to see Wesley again.

With a smothered sigh at my own ridiculousness, I yanked open the door to Celeste’s shop and stomped inside. My friend was standing at the counter, and she glanced up with a frown at the sound of the bell over the door ringing.

“Oh. Sabrina.” She blinked, tilting her head. “I didn’t expect you so soon.”

“You said you needed me here ASAP,” I reminded her. “Your text said it was an event-planning emergency.”

“Well, I might have been a little dramatic when I said that,” she conceded. “It’s not so much an emergency as it is that I needed your input on a few decisions.”

I threw up my hands. “And you couldn’t have just called me? We could have video chatted. Saved me time and a tank of gas.”

“No, because I wanted to see you.” She grinned. “You know, sometimes it’s just nice to spend a few hours with your bestie.”

“Uh-huh. But we have a date this weekend to help Coral find a dress for her big premiere shindig, remember? You’re both coming into the city to stay with me and shop?”

“Well, sure, but maybe I wanted to talk with just you. I thought we could discuss Coral’s date situation. Have you talked to the hematologist yet? Is he interested in being Coral’s escort that night?”

Damn. I’d been so preoccupied with my own life that I’d neglected to reach out to the guy as I’d promised.

“Um, I’ve laid the groundwork,” I answered, using mental reservations to justify the fib. I planned to take care of it, and I’d do it the minute I went back to work.

“Okay, well—” Whatever Celeste had been about to say was lost as the bell over the door rang again, admitting a pretty woman with long dark hair in large sunglasses.

“Jenna, wow, great to see you. What a surprise.” Celeste rounded the end of the counter and crossed the store to greet the newcomer.

“Um.” She took off her glasses. “I just stopped to pick up the thing I ordered.”

“Yeah, of course.” Celeste nodded vigorously. “The peignoir you wanted for the romantic weekend Linc’s planning for you.”

“Right. That’s it.” Jenna’s smile seemed a little . . . relieved? But before I could I mull over that fact, I realized that I recognized her name.

“Wait a second. Your name is Jenna? And your husband is Linc Turner?”

“Guilty and guilty.” She offered me her hand. “You wouldn’t happen to be Dr. Hudson, would you?”

“Also guilty. But please, call me Sabrina.” I shook her hand. “Linc speaks of you often. I’m so glad to meet you.”

“He’s said nice things about you, too. And he’s kind of got a crush on your house.” Jenna rolled her eyes. “Which isn’t as unusual as you’d hope it would be. Also, I’ve heard Celeste talk about her best friends and all of the great work you’re doing for the benefit this Christmas.”

“I was saying to Jenna the other day that Coral and I are dying to get a look at the house, but that you won’t let us until it’s finished.” Celeste pretended to pout.

“You saw it in the before stage when I’d just bought it, and then you’ll get to see the massive transformation,” I told her and then turned back to Jenna. “What Linc’s doing there—it really is beyond my wildest hopes. Every time I get to take a look, I’m completely blown away.”

“He’s got mad skills, my man,” Jenna waggled her eyebrows. “And his team is incredibly talented, too. Have you met them all?”

“Uh . . . most of them,” I hedged, not loving where this was going.

“We had everyone out to our house for a barbecue last weekend, and I got to know some of the newer people.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “One of the guys in particular . . . he was telling me—” Jenna closed her eyes and shook her head. “Fuck it, Celeste. I’m crap at this kind of thing.”

I glanced from my friend to Jenna Turner. “What?”

Celeste groaned. “It’s not you, Jenna. This was all stupid. Men and their lame ideas.” Wrinkling her nose, she leaned back against the display case behind her. “Linc put Jenna up to this, and she recruited me to help.”

“What are you talking about?” I was bewildered.

“Wesley Crane.” Jenna wrung her hands. “Linc wanted to figure out a way to make sure you knew what really happened with Wesley all those years ago. And he thought maybe if I just kind of casually brought it up in front of you, maybe you’d listen.”

My cheeks went hot. “This was Wesley’s idea?”

“No, not at all.” Jenna shook her head. “This was totally my husband’s brainstorm. He has a huge heart and good intentions, but he doesn’t always stop and think.”

“If Wesley wants me to know something, he can just tell me himself,” I sniffed. “I don’t know why it even matters.”

“But you won’t stick around long enough to let him give you his version,” Celeste reminded me. “And Sabrina, seriously, you need to hear this.”

I rounded on her. “You already know?”

Guilt etched in her eyes, she nodded. “Jenna told me.”

For a long moment, I was silent, curiosity battling with stubbornness in my head. Finally, I shrugged.

“Okay. Tell me what you know. It’s not going to make any difference,” I hastened to add. “There’s no excuse for what Wesley Crane did to me back then.” Lifting my chin, I clenched my jaw. “Absolutely none.”

***

“Oh, my God,” I murmured, my arms tingling as I rubbed my hands over them. “That’s . . . it’s really true? You’re sure this wasn’t just Wesley spinning a pathetic story to get sympathy?”

“It’s true,” Jenna assured me. “Linc believed him, but he figured you’d have questions, so he did the research. There were a couple of police reports from years ago, when Wesley’s mom was still angry enough to report the abuse. Then there’s the death notice for Wesley’s father. It was right when he said it happened. It’s all legit, Sabrina. He didn’t know he would be leaving town that night. But he couldn’t risk his father finding them.”

From the vantage point of adulthood and new information, I remembered a few incidents now with new clarity. Wesley’s father had rarely been part of our lives, and when he had shown up, things had been tense. I recalled that when Wesley had vanished, my own dad had been thoughtful and sober, gently advising me to give my friend the benefit of the doubt. I wondered what Daddy would say now if I told him what I’d learned.

“I feel horrible for what I said to him,” I confessed to Celeste and Jenna. “He was trying to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t see beyond my own hurt.”

“The good news is that you still have a chance to make up for that,” Celeste reminded me. “Wesley is here. Just a few miles away, putting in hours on your house. You could go out there and tell him . . . well, talk to him.”

“Does it even matter?” I wondered out loud. “We were kids. We were friends, but barely more than that. Life tore us apart . . . and maybe we should just forgive each other and move along.”

The other two women sighed in unison. “Sabrina, I don’t know you, but I’d have to wonder why you were so angry—and shaken—by seeing Wesley again if it really means so little to you.” Jenna patted my arm.

“You told us once that he was your first love,” put in Celeste. “You owe it to sixteen-year-old year to at least see if there’s something there.”

“But how do I do it?” I gnawed my bottom lip.

“I think you just drive over to the house, and you walk up to Wesley . . . and you ask him to tell you everything. You tell him you’re ready to listen.”

The idea of doing that made me break out in cold sweat. What if Wesley blew me off? What if he was angry about how snarky and mean I’d been? What if he told me that I’d never mattered enough to miss? What if he thought that I’d been making a big deal out of something that did mean that much?

But at the same time, beneath the terror and uncertainty beat a small yet persistent thrum of hope.

“All right,” I said at last. “I’ll do it. I’ll go see him. I’ll talk with Wesley.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Six is coming next Friday!

Sabrina and Wesley finally talk. And listen.

And . . .well, wait and see!

The tale of Coral’s movie premiere date

is coming in this month, too.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

Bosom Buddies Episode Four

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

 

Wesley

“Hey, can I borrow your stud finder?” Lincoln climbed up the last few steps, holding out his hand toward me. “Mine’s out of juice.”

I lifted one eyebrow. “What’s that you always tell us about keeping our tools charged up and in good working order?”

He shrugged, grinning. “Hey, I can’t help it. Every time I use the stud finder, it goes crazy and sticks to me. Can’t blame the thing for knowing a real stud when it sees one.”

“Oh, Jesus,” I groaned. “You didn’t really say that.”

“Sure did.” Linc had no compunction about making the corniest jokes ever, telling us that as a father of four, he held the ultimate dad joke title. It was a point of pride among the crew that none of us ever laughed when the boss unleashed a one-liner.

“Here.” I unsnapped the case that held my stud finder from my belt. “Take this and your lame humor and go downstairs. I’m busy here.”

“Yeah? Doing what?” Linc smirked, but we both knew that he was just yanking my chain. One of the things that I liked about working for this company was the way the bosses respected my skill. Other outfits didn’t realize that mutual respect was essential in order to hold onto talented workers. I’d had bosses who thought that sneering at what I did and how I did it made them big guys. I didn’t stick around long for that kind of treatment; I’d had enough experience with bullies to know when to cut my losses.

“Finishing up this trim.” I pointed to the elaborate woodwork beneath the waist-high railing at the top of the steps. “It’s got to be measured precisely, or—”

“The design is shit,” Linc finished my sentence. “Yeah, I know. I put in my time doing this kind of stuff. It can be tedious.” He paused, squinting at me. “If you need to take break, stretch your legs, get some air, go ahead.”

“We’re running behind on this part,” I reminded my boss. “I want to finish today so I can move on to the next tasks.”

“Yeah, but if you screw it up and have to re-do it, we’re that much further back. Work smart, not stupid.”

I nodded, the edges of my lips curling as I considered what a difference it was to partner with a guy like Linc. “I got it. Don’t worry, I know my limitations.”

“Okay, then.” He turned and descended two steps before pausing. “Speaking of limitations and knowing our own . . . Dr. Hudson texted earlier and let me know she’s stopping by for an update.”

My heart began to pound until it was too loud in my own ears, and suddenly, it was that much hotter up here. I kept my eyes on the cut pieces of wood in front of me. “Yeah?”

“Thought you should know since the last time she was here, she ran for the hills when she caught sight of you.”

“That’s not exactly—” I began and then expelled a long breath. “Okay, yeah. She did. She didn’t appreciate the surprise of seeing me again after all these years, I guess.”

“And you don’t want to tell me—” Linc broke off as we both heard the sound of the door opening below us. “Huh. Guess that’ll have to save. I’m going down to welcome her, so you can stay up here and keep working, but when we pass your way, play nice, all right?”

I raised my eyebrows. “I’m not the problem here. I’m always perfectly nice. She’s the one who . . .” I dropped my voice to a whisper. “Ran away.”

“Whatever. She’s the customer, so she automatically gets the benefit of the doubt.” Shooting me one more quelling glare, Linc started down the steps again. “Hey, doc! Is that you?”

I heard Sabrina’s voice waft up the stairwell. “Yes, it’s me. Wow, look at all the progress you’ve made! This is amazing.”

For the next ten minutes, I kept my eyes glued to my work, pretending that I could ignore the sounds of the conversation below. But every time Sabrina said something or laughed in response to whatever Linc was saying, my body tightened, and I got the same weird sense that I did just before a huge drop on a rollercoaster.

And then their voices were louder, and I knew they were approaching me. I had two conflicting urges: to run so that I didn’t have to see the raw hurt and cold fury in Sabrina’s eyes or to stay just so that I could look at her more, be close enough to examine all of the ways the last fourteen years had changed the girl who used to be my best friend.

I knew the minute she spotted me. I could almost hear her breath stutter, and then Linc said, “Ooopsie daisy, there. Don’t fall now. We’ve got insurance for our team, but I’m pretty sure you taking a tumble down the steps would be under your homeowner’s policy and could jack up your rates.”

“True.” Sabrina’s voice was thin and thready. “Thanks for the catch.”

“Can’t have the woman who pays the bills end up with a bump on the noggin that could lead to her forgetting that she hired us.” Linc sounded a little too hearty. “Well, here you can see one of our favorite artisans at work, restoring the second-level bricka-brack.” He cleared his throat. “Scoring Wesley for this job was a massive win. He’s the perfect storm: he does his own research, and with his masters in historical architecture, that’s not just hitting Google for colors and old photos, believe me. But add his incredible talent working wood, and he’s a truly rare dude.”

“I’m . . . sure.” Sabrina squared her shoulders as I rose from my knees to face her. “His work is definitely, ah, adequate.”

Adequate? I scowled and opened my mouth to respond, but before I could, Linc rushed to intercede.

“Ahahaha, doc, that’s the way to tell him.” He shot me a meaningful glance over Sabrina’s head. “We don’t want him getting a big head and leaving us to start his own company, right?”

“That’s definitely something I’d be concerned about.” Sabrina’s breathiness had turned brittle. “Leaving people without warning is his specialty.”

I stood in front of her, feeling as though I’d turned to stone, not knowing what to say. Linc’s eyes darted from the client to me, clearly not sure how to handle this tension.

A high-pitched tone trilled, the sound coming from the direction of Sabrina’s brown leather handbag. She fumbled with the snap and then whipped out her cell phone. Frowning at the screen, she gave her head a little shake.

“I’m sorry to cut short the tour, but I have to get into town. A friend . . . ah, it’s kind of an emergency.” She shoved the phone back into her purse. “Linc, if it’s okay, I’ll give you a call next week and set up a time to come by again.” She stepped backward, down another stair. “Sorry I have to keep . . . uh, I can’t seem to finish getting a good look, can I?” She affected a laugh that was undeniably fake. “The life of a doctor, right?”

Linc nodded, but his smile was forced, too. “Sure thing. This is your house, doc. Come whenever it works for you. And if I’m not here, just text or call with questions.”

“Of course.” Sabrina dipped her head. “What I see so far . . . it’s amazing. Fabulous. I can’t wait for it all to be finished.”

She spun on one heel and dashed down the steps, disappearing through the door seconds later.

“Well.” Linc crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the unpainted wall behind us. “Once again, the lady seems to be in quite a hurry. And this time, Crane, I’m gonna need an explanation.”

“I guess I owe you that much.” I pulled a kerchief from my pocket and wiped off my forehead.

“Let’s go outside and sit down,” Linc suggested. “We can refill our HydroFlasks on the way.”

The company of Kent and Turner was serious about taking care of the environment, doing our part to cut down on the scourge of plastic pollution. That’s why we were each issued our own personalized reusable cold beverage thermos. Those damn things kept water icy all the day long, even in extreme heat.

The old house we were restoring was set back in the woods, and as I joined my boss on a roughed-out log bench, I took a moment to appreciate the quiet, with only birdsong and the occasional rustle in the underbrush disturbing the silence.

“Okay.” Linc gulped down some water. “Spill. Tell me why our client seems to have an allergic reaction to seeing you.”

I twisted the cap back onto my water and rested it on the ground between my feet. “I’ve known Sabrina since we were toddlers. We lived down the street from each other in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and we were in the same playgroup. We walked into kindergarten together on the first day . . . then a few months later, her mother died.”

“Oh, God.” Linc’s jaw tensed. “That’s so damn tough. Poor kid.”

I realized that this news probably hit home with my boss, who had lost his first wife and the mother of his two babies in a tragic accident. Although he’d since found new love and remarried, he’d completely empathize with the idea of a child losing her mama.

“It was breast cancer,” I went on. “I don’t remember much, but later, when I was older, my mother told me that Sabrina’s mom had been really sick for a long time.” I paused, thinking back over the years. “We were with all of the same kids through elementary, middle, and high school. Sabrina hated being known as the girl without a mom. So I always made sure I treated her like . . . you know, like a normal person.”

“You guys were pretty close, huh?”

“The closest.” I rubbed my lower lip. “We were best friends. We told each other everything.” I swallowed, staring at the ground. “Well, almost everything. The only thing I didn’t share with Sabrina was the worst part of my life . . . and that was the fact that my father routinely beat my mother.”

It was Linc’s turn to suck in a swift breath. “Fuck, Crane. Jesus. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, the man who donated the sperm for my conception was a sick son-of-a-bitch. I don’t have a memory of him that doesn’t involve my mom getting hurt. He was cruel, sadistic . . . I hated him.”

“Did he ever—” Linc frowned. “You know—with you? Did he lay hands on his kid?”

“No, and that was almost worse. Once I got old enough to try and protect her, he took extra . . . glee, I guess, in hitting her in front of me. Or attacking her verbally, emotionally. Whatever might twist me up, knowing I couldn’t do anything to defend my mother. He was a huge guy.”

“Fucking prick.” Linc glowered. “I can’t stand that. I don’t understand men like that—and you can’t even call them men really, because they’re less than animals if they’re hitting the women they’re meant to love and protect. If they’re teaching their impressionable sons to be the same way.”

“Yeah.” I ran my hands over my jean-covered thighs. “Well, I almost confessed everything to Sabrina so many times, but she had so much sadness in her own life that I didn’t want to lay that on her, too. So I kept my mouth shut.”

“Hmmmm.” Linc’s response was non-committal. “And then what?”

“The older we got, the closer we got.” I closed my eyes, letting my mind wander back to those crazy days of my youth. “At the end of junior high, I knew I liked Sabrina—I wanted her as more than just a friend. Hanging out and watching movies at her house wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to . . . you know. Hold her. Kiss her. I wanted Sabrina as my girlfriend. But at the same time, I was scared shitless to make a move. Partly because I couldn’t imagine being involved with her in that way and not sharing everything—the truth about my home life, I mean. And then a big part was this worry I had that maybe I could be like him. What if it was like some genetic thing, and I hadn’t realized it because I’d never had a girlfriend?”

“That’s a lot of heavy shit for . . . how old were you then?”

“Sixteen,” I replied. “It was heavy, you’re right. But finally, the way I felt for Sabrina outweighed all of my fears and hang-ups. We were walking home one night, and I worked up the nerve to tell her how I felt. We had this dance thing at our high school every Christmas time, and it was a big deal. So I asked her to go with me, as my date, and she said yes, and we kissed.” I could still feel everything I’d felt that night. “I left Sabrina at her door, and I’m pretty sure I floated down the block toward my house.”

“Uh-huh.” Linc’s eyes were steady on mine, as though he had a clue about what came next.

“Thing was, though, I didn’t get home. A few houses away from mine, a car I didn’t recognize pulled up alongside me. When the passenger window rolled down, my mom was there in the dark, and she whispered to me to get in.” I gripped the log on either side of me until the wood dug into my palms. “She hadn’t told me, but for months, she’d been working with an organization that helps women and kids escape abusive situations. They’d helped her get the car—it had been waiting at a safe spot for the first opportunity my mom had to sneak away. That night, my father’s car had broken down, holding him up at work, and so my mother snatched the chance. She’d been parked down a side street, just waiting for me to walk past.”

“Holy shit, Wesley.” Linc gaped at me. “What did you do?”

“I was sixteen, and my mother needed me. She’d found us a way out of a situation that probably would’ve ended in her death if we hadn’t escaped. But getting away—and getting away safely—meant cutting all ties to the people who knew us. That included Sabrina. I didn’t have any way to contact her. Mom and I both destroyed our phones and dumped them behind a grocery store on our way out of town.”

“Ah.” My boss nodded. “But you did get away?”

“We did. We took back roads all the way from Wisconsin up into Canada, and then this pilot flew us to Alaska on a prop plane—crazy stuff. We lived up there in a small town, changed our names, our birth dates . . . it was mind-blowing, but we lived. My mother finally got a second chance for a peaceful, safe life.”

“And so did you.” Linc grasped my shoulder. “But it came at the cost of your friendship with Sabrina, right?”

“It did.” I nodded. “I finished high school in Alaska and was in the middle of my first year at a community college there when we learned that my father was dead. Mom and I would check on him now and then, you know, online, and we found out he’d been killed in a barfight in California. Guess he finally picked on someone bigger than him, and it bit him in the ass.”

“What did you and your mom do after that?”

I stretched out my legs. “Mom stayed in Alaska. She’d been dancing around a relationship with a really great guy for a while, and with my dad gone, she was free to finally go for it with him. They’re married and very much in love. She ended up with happiness she deserved.”

“And what about you?”

“Well, I spent a summer working with a couple of brothers who restored buildings up there. I realized that I loved the work—and as you know, the fact that it dovetailed so well with my history major made it even more perfect. I finished another year of community college in Alaska, and then I got a scholarship to a school in New England.” I shrugged. “The rest of my resumé is exactly what it says on paper. After the asshole died, I changed my name back.”

“You didn’t ever try to find Sabrina?” Linc cocked his head.

I hesitated. “I thought about it, but when I made a trip back to Waukesha, her family had moved—I guess right after Sabrina finished high school. I looked her up on social media, but I never could find her. And what would I have said to her? I have no clue what she thought when I disappeared from her life. I figured she hated me.” My mouth twisted. “Guess I was right.”

“Okay, I follow you so far.” Linc’s head wagged. “But did you try to explain all of this to Sabrina when you two reconnected here?”

“She didn’t give me a chance.” I shrugged. “She had a shit load of assumptions about me and what had happened, and before I could say a word, she blew out of here again. Like a hurricane.”

“So you need to get her back here and lay out the truth. Tell her exactly what happened in the past and why you ghosted.” Linc said it as though it was simple. “You owe her that much. And you need to do it soon if she’s going to keep avoiding being here at her own house in order to keep from seeing you.”

“Great idea, boss.” I tossed up my hands. “Do you have any brilliant plan to make it happen?”

Linc was quiet for a moment, his eyes narrowing. And then a slow smile spread over his face.

“Leave it to me, buddy. Just leave it to me.”

 

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Five is coming next Friday!

And we’ll see exactly what Linc has in mind.

The tale of Coral’s movie premiere date

is coming in this month, too.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

Did you know Linc Turner has his own book?

The Forever One

Welcome to Burton, a small town just west of Savannah where the men are sexy, the women are sassy

and happily-ever-afters are a specialty of the house.

Jenna

I celebrated my twenty-first birthday by persuading Trent Wagner, the guy I’d been crushing on for months, to sleep with me. When he broke my heart and crushed my dreams by rejecting me afterward, I did the unthinkable. I tried to end my life.

Over two years later, I’m finally finding my balance again. My job at the county historical society is steady and predictable, two elements I appreciate right now. I’m living on my own, and my world is peaceful, if lonely.

That is, until Lincoln Turner comes to town.

Linc

When my wife was killed in a car accident, she left me with two small children and a bleak future. Six years later, I’m a recovering alcoholic who’s just gotten my kids back. I’m ready to tackle a new position as co-owner of a building restoration company.

I’m not looking for any attachments. But I’m also not ready for the irresistible attraction I feel for Jenna when a huge project brings us together.

The road to true love has more bumps than we could imagine. Making our way to a happy ending won’t be easy. But when two bruised souls find their way to each other . . . forever is possible.

 

Bosom Buddies Episode Three

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

 

Sabrina

“How many margarita sleepovers have we had?”

There was a moment of silence as my eyes met Coral’s across the kitchen table, and then we both burst into laughter.

“What?” Celeste spread her hands and gave us wide eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“You are,” Coral giggled. “You are so totally predictable, Celeste.”

“Every single time we have one of these, as soon as you get a little bit drunk, you ask us that question. And then you get pissy when we won’t stop and try to count them all up.” I lifted my purple margarita glass. “To the Bosom Buddies and our margarita sleepovers . . . however many of them we’ve had.”

The girl clinked with me, echoing my toast before we all took fortifying sips of our tequila.

“And to the Tinsel and Tatas Benefit 5K Run and Weekend Celebration.” Celeste raised her glass. “May we all survive the biggest charity event Burton’s ever seen.”

“Survive? We’re going to rock the whole damn thing.” Coral quirked one eyebrow. “Should we also drink to the weekend’s entertainment, one very hot, very famous, and very familiar—at least to one of us—country singer Ty Hollis?”

Celeste rolled her eyes. “Don’t start up with me again about Ty. I told you both that this is all business. It has nothing to do with what happened between the two of us almost ten years ago.”

“Time will tell,” Coral replied airily. “Just mark my words, girls. Remember that I told you so.”

Celeste patted her arm. “Of course, you did, sweetie.” She reached for the blender, where another serving was waiting. “But I think it’s time to get to the real juice of the evening.” She poured us each another drink and then fastened her gaze on me. “What’s going on with you, Sabrina?”

“Not much.” I left my glass on the table in my hurry to change the subject. “Coral, your movie premiere is next weekend, isn’t it? Are you getting excited?”

“Arrrgh.” She flung one arm onto the table and dropped her head down on top of it. “Don’t remind me. Why was I stupid enough to set this book in Savannah?”

I patted her hand. “Because you wanted to do a story that could include all of the history around here, remember? After we did that weekend in the city and went on the carriage ride and the ghost tour . . .”

“It was a rhetorical question, Sabrina.” She lifted her eyes. “Because when I set my books in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Colorado, the movies premiere in New York or LA. But this time, with it taking place in Savannah, they thought it was such a great idea to premiere it here. And they say it’s absolutely essential that I’m part of the whole mess.”

Have I mentioned that Coral can be just the teensiest bit dramatic?

“I think it sounds like it’ll be amazing, Cor,” Celeste said, her enthusiastic cheerleading smile glowing. “Didn’t you say something about tickets for your closest friends? You know, your bosom buddies?” She winked.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got that all set up.” Coral waved her hand. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that my publicist Sherell told me I need to bring a date. Like, a man.”

“Aha. Now the plot thickens.” I wagged my eyebrow. “This is getting juicy. Who are you going to invite, Coral?”

“I don’t know!” She practically wailed the words. “I was thinking of my cousin Gary, but then I saw the family newsletter, and I guess he got married or something. And anyway, Sherell says it has to be a romantic interest because they’re going to play up that angle—that I’m a romance author who leads this super exciting, sexy life.” Coral blew out a sarcastic breath. “As if! The most romance I get is when my fingers accidentally graze the barista’s hand when he’s giving me my coffee.”

“That’s no one’s fault but your own,” Celeste began, but I interrupted before we could get too far off track.

“So you need to find a hot guy who’ll be your date for that night.” I drummed my fingers on the tabletop. “I think I have an idea. There’s a new doc in the hematology department, and he’s kind of cute. I heard through the grapevine that he’s single—he broke up with his college girlfriend last year when she moved to Africa.” I shook my head. “Sorry, trivial detail. Anyway, I bet I could talk to him and see if he’d be willing to be your date for that night.”

Coral’s eyes lit up. “Seriously? Oh, Sabrina, I’d owe you forever.”

“Nah, not forever.” I grinned. “Just introduce me to whoever’s playing the leading man in your next big movie and we’ll call it even.”

“Oh.” She tilted her head. “The next one is shooting here in Burton this fall. I just got an update on the production schedule. Since they’re filming it here, I’m going to be an extra in one of the scenes. But the lead in that one was just cast—and it’s Diego Ramos.”

“Yummy.” Celeste took another long drink of her margarita. “But he’s not going to be interested in any of us, unfortunately. He was with that adorable guy who played a manny on the TV show—what his character’s name?”

“Chip,” I supplied. “But they broke up, or so I read.”

“Too bad for them.” Celeste licked a tiny bit of salt from the corner of her lip. “Now that we’ve got Coral sorted, time to turn out attention back to you, Sabrina. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you ignored my question. What’s up with you?”

I’d put this off as long as I could, and I knew when I’d hit the wall of defeat. “Okay, okay. If you must know, when I stopped by the house last week to see how things are progressing, I . . . met someone. Or rather, I had an unexpected reunion.”

Both of my friends wore puzzled expressions. “Who was it?”

I toyed with the edge of a napkin. “Do you remember when I told you about Wesley?”

“Oh, my God, Wesley,” Celeste clapped her hand to her chest. “You didn’t really find the boy who broke your poor teenaged heart, did you?”

“In fact, I did.” I swallowed. “He’s working on the house.”

“This is the most perfect romance ever,” Coral breathed. “It’s like a made-for-film second chance love story. Tell me everything.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” I retorted. “I walked in, he came down—he’d seen me from the upstairs window before I walked in—he told me who he was.” I took a deep breath. “And I basically yelled at him for leaving me without any warning or explanation, and he tried to give me some lame excuse. . . and then I left.”

“And you haven’t been back to the house since?” Celeste wanted to know. “I mean, aren’t you curious, Sabrina? Don’t you want to know what happened to him when you guys were in high school?”

“Why would I want to know that?” I retorted. “It all happened a long time ago.”

“Because he hurt you,” Coral answered me gently. “I remember when you told us the story. It was the first time I ever saw you cry.”

I blinked and pressed my lips together, unwilling—or unable—to answer.

“Wesley was your best friend. He’d been there for you all of your life, especially after your mom died.”

“Mmmm.” I nodded.

“And then you started to have feelings for him, like that you wanted to be more than friends, and you were afraid that he didn’t feel the same way until one night when you were walking home together. He asked you to the—was it the prom? Or cotillion or something?”

“The Holiday Ball,” I supplied hoarsely. “It was a huge big deal in our school.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Celeste agreed, taking up the narrative. “And then even better, he kissed you and told you that he’d been trying to work up the nerve to ask you out for months.”

When I closed my eyes, I could still remember that night so clearly. I didn’t think about Wesley all the time—a demanding college schedule, med school, and life had kept me too busy to wallow once I’d left Wisconsin after high school. But on nights when I was by myself and lonely, the memory of Wesley’s shining eyes, how his lips had felt against mine, the joy in my heart when he’d confessed that he liked me . . . it felt all too close.

“I really thought it was the beginning for us,” I mused, staring down at my hands on the table. I thought all of my dreams were finally coming true. I went into the house after he’d kissed me goodnight, and I remember that I cried just a little because I wished I had my mother there, to tell her about Wesley and me. I wanted her to squeal with me and get all excited about finding a dress for the Holiday Ball.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Celeste murmured, reaching over to clasp my hand.

“Once I got into bed, I just lay there imagining how different my life was going to be. I pictured Wesley and I walking to school together the next morning, maybe sharing a few kisses. I giggled at how surprised everyone would be when they saw us holding hands in the hallway—Wesley was a big deal, the hottest guy in the school, and I—well, I wasn’t. I was the poor little girl who had no mother and was kind of a nerd.”

“Nerds rule,” Coral informed me solemnly. “Wesley would’ve been damn lucky to get a girl like you.”

I offered her a small, sad smile. “Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around long enough to figure that out. Because the next day, he never came to my door. For as long as we’d been going to school, he’d been there every morning. I was late to my first class, and I was so worried—at lunch, I snuck away and called him, which was totally not like me—I was a rule follower.” I closed my eyes, the waves of hurt breaking over me again, almost as devastating as they’d been that late autumn day fourteen years ago. “I thought he’d pick up or it would go to voicemail, but I just got a message that the line had been disconnected.”

“Son of a bitch,” Celeste swore. “How in the hell could he do that to you? Don’t you want to know why?”

“I don’t know,” I replied slowly. “Does it even matter? I went by his house and knocked on the door, and there was no answer. That weekend, I saw his father outside and asked him if Wesley was okay. I said he hadn’t been in school or in touch for three days, and I was concerned.” I bit my lip. “His dad was always a little bit of an asshole. He told me that Wesley had decided to finish high school in California because he’d have a better chance of a football scholarship. He seemed surprised that I didn’t know, that Wesley hadn’t told me. Apparently, his mom had driven him out there, and later that month, Mr. Crane followed.” I drew in a ragged breath. “He knew he was leaving the next day, but he didn’t tell me. Instead, he gave me the cruelest kind of hope, and then he disappeared from my life forever.”

“Oh, Sabrina.” Coral stood up and staggered around the table to gather me close to her in a sloppy kind of hug. “I knew the story already, and I still feel my heart breaking for you. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Celeste looked thoughtful. “It just doesn’t make sense,” she remarked. “Wesley was always your friend. If he knew he was leaving the next day . . . what would make him treat you that way? I think there’s more to what happened, Sabrina. And I think you owe it to yourself to find out, now that you have this chance.”

“I don’t care about his reasons.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Nothing he could say would make me feel better about what he did.” I paused, remembering the light in Wesley’s eyes when he’d come down the steps last week. “And what’s more, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m going to fall into his arms like some lovesick girl in a romance novel.” I slid a glance Coral’s way. “No offense, Cor.”

“None taken.” She waved her hand. “But Sabrina . . . don’t you think it’s weird that Wesley came back into your life this way fourteen years after you saw him last? Don’t you think it might be a little bit of kismet?”

I snorted. “No, I don’t. I think it was coincidence and my bad luck. If I don’t see Wesley Crane again for the rest of my life, I’ll be perfectly fine with that.” I reached for my margarita. “Now let’s change the subject. All of this maudlin shit is harshing my tequila vibe.”

I took a long drink, pretending that I didn’t notice the loaded glance my friends shared. That was fine; they could believe whatever they wanted. But there was no chance in hell that I was giving Wesley another opportunity to hurt me.

No fucking way.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Four is coming next Friday!

And we’ll hear Wesley’s side of the story . . .

The tale of Coral’s movie premiere date

is coming in September, right here.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

Bosom Buddies **BONUS EPISODE**

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

 

Sabrina

“Come in, come in!” Celeste opened the front door to her adorable little lingerie boutique, Between the Sheets. “How’re you doing, sweetie?”

“I’m good. I’m fine.” I leaned into my friend’s enthusiastic hug. Celeste was one of the brightest, most positive people I’d ever met, and I often wondered why she liked someone like me who tended to teeter on the cliff of pessimism.

But she did like me, and I knew I was lucky to have both Coral and Celeste in my life. When we’d met at that volunteer rally back in college, I never could have guessed how long we’d know each other and how deeply they’d both impact my future. Hell, I lived in Georgia because after we’d finished our undergrad studies, Celeste had been determined to start up a business in Burton, her hometown. Coral had already written her first book by that time and knew she could work anywhere, so she’d decided to stick around and share a rental house with Celeste.

I’d gone to medical school in Atlanta, close enough that my girls could come to me at least one weekend a month. They’d cheered me on, getting me through those three long years of insanity, and when I’d landed a spot in a residency program in Savannah, we’d all been thrilled to live within about forty-five minutes of each other.

And now, all three of us had realized our dreams: Coral’s books were bestsellers, the kinds of books that were optioned for movie deals even before their release dates; I was working in a cutting-edge breast cancer treatment hospital, heading up some of the most promising studies and trials; and Celeste owned this totally kick-ass lingerie store on the main boulevard of Burton.

She studied me now, her eyes clouding with concern. “You don’t look fine.”

“Oh, stop with the flattery, Celeste, you’ll make me blush.” I rolled my eyes. “I just came off a twenty-four, and I only had time for a couple of hours of sleep before I had to drag my ass to Burton for this meeting.” I yawned big. “So sorry if I don’t match your sparkle. Cut me a break.”

“Whoa there, angel pants. Slow your roll. When I said you didn’t look fine, I only meant that there’s something in your eyes. Something that says you’re not at all fine and good. You’re upset.”

“Am not.” The denial flew fast from my lips. “Like I said, I’m just . . . tired.”

“Okay.” She shrugged, and she might have said more, but just then the bell over the door jingled as Coral came in, followed in short order by a group of three young women.

Celeste wore her official saleswoman smile as she glanced at me. I nodded, understanding that she had to deal with these last-minute-before-closing customers, and gestured to Coral to follow me behind the counter and into the small sitting room in the back of the store.

“Ugh, I saw those girls getting out of their car right after I did, and I kept sending them mental vibes: don’t go into Celeste’s store. But I guess my Jedi mind power must be a little rusty.”

“Oh, it’s fine. She’ll schmooze them, sell them a couple hundred dollars’ worth of sexy silkies, then send them on their way.” I sank onto the overstuffed loveseat. “God, it feels good to be off my feet. It’s been a long week.”

“Sorry about that.” Coral kicked off her shoes and curled into the opposite corner of the small sofa. “Just work stuff?”

I hesitated. I’d been vacillating all week on whether or not to spill my guts to the girls about Wesley. They both knew of him; they’d heard the story early in our friendship, on one of our very first margarita sleepovers. I’d gotten sloppy drunk and sobbed out my heartbreak. Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to let them know that the first guy who’d broken my tender heart was now helping to transform my home.

“Yeah, just work,” I answered Coral finally. “A lot of challenges right now.”

“I’m sorry.” Coral reached over to pat my hand. “Want to talk about it?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Comes with the territory, you know.”

“Sure, but . . .” She shrugged. “We’ve all been there. Or at least near there.”

I had to swallow hard over a lump that had risen suddenly in my throat. Coral, Celeste, and I called ourselves the Bosom Buddies for two reasons: first, we’d met at a volunteer rally for Young Survival Coalition, and second, we’d all three gone into lines of work that had something to do with, well . . . boobs. I worked in breast cancer research and treatment, Celeste sold fancy and sexy bras, and Coral wrote historical romances that all featured those famous and stereotypical heaving bosoms.

But behind the truth was pain that was still scarred and hurting, at least for Coral and me. I’d lost my mom to breast cancer when I was only five years old. That was why obliterating the disease was my daily personal crusade.

Coral, though, had actually fought breast cancer herself. She’d been diagnosed at age seventeen and battled for three years before going into remission. Now, nearly ten years after she’d finished treatment, it was sometimes hard to remember that she’d ever been that sick—it had happened before Celeste and I had met her—except that every now and then, I happened to look into her deep gray eyes—those old soul eyes—and caught a flash vulnerability. And then I remembered my friend’s enormous courage.

I scooted over on the loveseat and slipped one arm behind her back. “Thank you, Cor.”

She gave me that heartbreaking half-smile. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You do stuff all the time. You’re always here for Celeste and me. You listen, you encourage—you’re the best cheerleader a woman could want. I love you to pieces, and I don’t say it nearly enough.”

“Oh.” Coral ducked her head, embarrassed. “We all do that for each other.”

“Well, we try. I don’t think I’m as good as you are.” I nodded my head toward the door that led to the front of the shop. “By the way, did you think Celeste sounded funny on the video chat last night when she asked us to meet up here today?”

“Funny how?” Coral tilted her head.

“I don’t know. Funny like . . . she’s hiding something. Or like something big is happening.”

“Oooooh!” Coral’s eyes got big. “Do you think it’s a guy?”

“Jesus, Cor, does it always have to be about a man?” I rolled my eyes.

“Not all the time, no, but every story’s better when a man’s involved,” she shot back, all sassy like. For all of her wise ancient spirit energy, Coral really was a hopeless romantic. It was probably why she was so good at her job.

“I don’t know about that,” I sighed, thinking of Wesley and our tense encounter at my house last week.

“Aha!” She wriggled to sit up straighter. “See. There’s something else going on with you, girlfriend, and it’s definitely man-related. I can just tell.”

I never lied to my friends, but that policy didn’t stop me from trying to redirect Coral’s attention. “Do you think Celeste is too stressed about this holiday benefit? Taking on the chairperson job was a big decision.”

Coral narrowed her gaze. “Stop trying to change the subject. Also . . . yes, I think she’s stressed, but no, not too stressed. You know her. She thrives under pressure.”

“Hmmm. Maybe.” I nudged her with my elbow. “Hey, do you have to be up early tomorrow?”

She frowned. “No. Not particularly. Why?”

“Because I’m off for a few days, and I was thinking we could crash at Celeste’s place tonight after dinner. We could have a margarita sleepover. We’re way past due for one.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Coral grinned. “Celeste will have to get up to open the store, but you and I can sleep in. Oh! And we could go to Kenny’s for waffles!”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” I loved the small diner in the center of Burton’s downtown. It was one prime reason I’d chosen to settle so close to this little town—but I wasn’t going to admit that to Celeste or Coral.

“This is perfect.” Coral rubbed her hands together. “While we’re here, we’ll gang up on Celeste and get her to spill whatever she’s hiding. And then tonight—” Her grin turned wicked. “We’ll find out what it is you’re trying to keep from us.”

I sent her a withering glare. “I will never talk. No matter how much you torture me.”

My friend snorted, smirking. “Oh, we’ll see about that, Sabrina. We’ll just see.”

Want to know what comes next?

The details of this meeting–and what’s up with Celeste–are all revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

But the next episode of BOSOM BUDDIES releases on Friday–

and it’s all about the margarita sleepover!

Stay tuned!

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

A sneak peek of FALL IN LOVE IN A SMALL TOWN

Enjoy a little taste of Fall in Love in a Small Town, coming September 28th!

Liberty

Sexy underwear on a freshly washed and shaved body? Check.

Dress that’s just the right mix of flirty and fun? Check.

Sassy new hairstyle that makes me look sophisticated–at least I hope so? Check.

Taking a deep, cleansing yoga breath, I gave myself one more encouraging grin in the mirror before I turned away. I’d set up the files I’d brought home from the society’s document library on my kitchen table, and there was a bottle of my favorite shiraz breathing on the counter next to two brand-new wine glasses. I’d been going for serious-business-evening alongside the suggestion of let’s-have-some-fun. I hoped that I’d struck the right note.

The knock on the door made me jump, even though I’d been waiting for it. I shook my head to dispel some nerves and yanked open the door.

Jacob stood on the other side, one hand resting on the wall of my small porch. The light jacket he wore was faded and almost threadbare; I recognized it from our high school days. Back then, seeing him wear it had made me sigh and wish. But right now? The way it clung to arms that had gotten a lot more bulked up since we were teenagers? Total droolfest.

He was wearing old jeans, too, and I knew the way they fit him was going to tempt me to stare at his very fine ass all evening. That wasn’t going to be a hardship.

“Hey, Lib.” His eyes swept over me from head to toe, and was I imagining it, or did I see a flare of heat in his expression? If so, it was too fleeting to be sure. And when he bent to kiss my cheek in greeting, it felt like he was keeping things brotherly, not suggestive.

Damn it.

“C’mon in, Jake,” I invited, stepping back as I eyed the backpack he had over one sculpted shoulder. “What do you have there?”

“Notebooks, binders, my laptop, and a portable scanner,” he answered, dropping the bag in a kitchen chair and unzipping it. “Tools of my trade.”

“Of course.” I smiled, nodding at him. “You come well-prepared.”

He stared at me for a moment and then muttered something under his breath. I wasn’t sure what he said, but it sounded like Not really. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

“Can I pour you some wine? I’m going to have a glass.” I moved toward the counter to give myself a little room before I did something crazy. Something like wrapping myself around him and climbing his body like a tree.

“Um . . .” Jacob looked almost mystified by the question. “Uh, sure. Yeah, wine sounds good.” He sat down and pulled out his laptop. “Sometimes I forget that you’re not still an underage kid, Lib. I was about to ask you how you managed to get ahold of wine.”

I rolled my eyes, irritated. “Jesus, Jacob. I’m twenty-five years old. Just two years younger than you. Newsflash . . . I do all kinds of grown-up things now. I buy alcohol, own a car, rent a house, go on dates . . .” Inspiration struck along with a kind of reckless courage I hadn’t known I possessed. Circling the small table, I stood next to him, closer than I had to, and leaned over to place the wine glass on the other side of his computer. I angled my body just enough to give him an eagle-eye view down the scooped neckline of my dress.

Lowering my voice, I completed my sentence, staring him in the eye.

“I even have sex. Believe it or not.”

Jake’s throat worked, and his mouth dropped open a little. Without looking away from me–almost as though he was powerless to do so–he reached for his wine and took a long drink. When he spoke again, his voice was raspy.

“Oh, I believe it, Liberty. I totally believe it.”

Coming September 28th

LEARN MORE HERE!!

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